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Year B begins Sunday 29 November 2020

Wait and see

Mark 13:24-37

 

By Mary Cotes

A Baptist minister and musician, who writes for the French website Servir Ensemble

Context: a diverse congregation in Milton Keynes

Aim: to explore the meaning of Advent watchfulness

A time of crisis can be a sudden wake-up call, opening our eyes to painful realities we had not particularly noticed before. The diagnosis of a serious illness can challenge us to reassess our priorities and question our lifestyle. During this past year, the lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic has brought our abuse of the environment into clearer focus, while the murder of a black man in police custody has shone a searing light on the scandalous ways many of us sit comfortably with both our slave-trading past and our racist present. At such moments, we can have the impression of being pushed to the edge of events, longing for something new to break in. An Advent cry rises up inside us: ‘We don’t want just more of the same! There’s got to be a different way! O come, O come, Emmanuel!’

Jesus’ disciples also had the impression of standing on the edge of change. The structures of the Temple institution were corrupt, while state power was compromised by allegiance to the occupying force of the Roman empire. Surely, such wickedness could not go on for ever. Surely, God must be going to act!

Yes, affirms Jesus, God’s new time is coming. Quoting words from a vision of the prophet Daniel, Jesus offers a powerful, poetic image of the coming of God. He describes how the sun, moon and stars, the lights by which people habitually live, will appear to grow dark in comparison to the dazzling brightness of the Son of Man, who will emerge not from the earth, but from heaven.

When will this be? It is not for us to know, Jesus says. But in the meantime, wait and see. Just as one day all will see the Son of Man coming in glory and will view the world in the light of God’s truth, so we are invited to be numbered amongst the faithful who anticipate that future by the way we see things today. Jesus is not suggesting that we just sit watching events as passive spectators. On the contrary: he is calling us to an active, attentive seeing, a way of looking which searches as hopefully and carefully for the signs of God’s coming as a farmer, dependent on the land for his livelihood, looks for new leaves burgeoning on his fig trees. This kind of seeing looks beneath the pretences and empty myths upon which our societies are often built and takes us to the place of protest where we become as outraged to witness injustice as Jesus was to see the money-changers in the Temple. How we view the world affects the way we live, and this godly way of seeing leads us to rise and act.

‘Be on your guard,’ says Jesus first. The word he uses here simply means ‘see’: be aware: beware! It’s the same word he has used to warn his disciples against the yeast – the unjust practices – of the Pharisees, against false Christs, and against the hypocrisy of the scribes who appear righteous in public while fleecing the poor behind the scenes. The same word occurred when he spoke earlier in the chapter about the Temple. Such a glorious building! But beware! See these stones, he says to his followers. They can’t last! Look behind the surface of status and power. Corruptible human empires return to dust, but my words are eternal.

Then, says Jesus, stay awake! This is the second way of seeing to which Jesus calls us. We are to keep our eyes open, and not allow ourselves to be lulled into sluggish apathy. Jesus will utter the same word to his disciples in Gethsemane when he begs them to ‘stay awake’ while he goes away to pray. We are invited to stay awake to the Son of Man who will be rejected, put to death and on the third day rise again. If we are longing for things to be lived in a different way, Jesus will show us that way, if only we follow and keep our gaze fixed on him. Stay awake in the evening, warns Jesus – the time of the Last Supper and the betrayal in Gethsemane; stay awake at midnight, the hour of the false allegations and the illegal trial, and at cockcrow, the moment of denial; and stay awake at dawn, the time when Jesus is handed over to Pilate, and when on the third day the women discover that the tomb is empty. Stay awake to Christ crucified and risen. Live watchfully in his light.

How awake are you? What would be your Advent cry and how can it shape your prayers? What in your life is the Advent God calling you to see in a new way?

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